Game of Drones: The Best Money Can Buy

The age of drones is upon us. Aerial photography and videography is now as simple as playing a video game, and innovative manufacturers are taking advantage. Drones have become the platform of choice for those looking to record high-quality footage in the wilderness, and the market has exploded over the past few years. With 4k video and 3-axis camera gimbals becoming commonplace, drone manufacturers have begun to step their game up, introducing never-before-seen features such as collision avoidance and customizable flight pathing. Whether you’re looking to film a car commercial or simply record yourself shredding through some fresh powder, these five drones have you covered.


AirDog: $1599

Man’s best friend just got a lot cooler. AirDog, the aptly named drone developed for action sports junkies, is part of a recent paradigm shift in drone technology, which is moving away from clunky, dual-joystick control mechanisms and toward something much simpler. The AirDog, a fully functional UAV, is designed such that an enterprising surfer — or skier, skater, or wakeboarder — can head into the wilderness alone and easily film themselves without any additional help. This is because the AirLeash, a water-resistant control panel that fits on your wrist like a quarterback’s playbook, allows for a selection of pre-programmed flight patterns unique to your individual sport. You can also control the drone manually, if you desire.

Although the AirDog doesn’t come with a camera, its gyro-stabilized gimbal fits a number of third-party cameras. Its lightweight frame also makes it as close to a grab-and-go toy as any drone, though the price might make you think twice about playing football with its folded-up body. It can reach speeds of up to 40 mph, too, and depending on how you fly it, can last anywhere between 10 and 18 minutes on a single charge


3DR Solo $784

For those who want complete command over their aerial footage, California-based 3D Robotics created the world’s first “smart drone,” aka the 3DR Solo. The Solo offers more control over aerial videography than any drone before by isolating the camera movement from the movement of the drone itself, thus allowing the user to choose exactly how they want to film. Powered by dual 1 GHz Linux Companion computers, the Solo can pilot the drone along a predetermined flight path while you control the camera (or vice versa). As for compatibility, the Solo works with GoPro Hero4 cameras.

The Solo also brings a number of unique features to the table, not the least of which are the selectable flight modes. Cable Cam mode allows you to select two different locations, and pilot the drone along an invisible line between Point A and Point B. The aptly-titled Orbit mode, meanwhile, allows you to select a single location, one which the drone will encircle at a specified distance. Follow Me mode is pretty self-explanatory, as is the Selfie mode, which sees the drone close in and out on your location.

The Solo does all this while streaming live video directly to your mobile device using a remote control that’s designed to feel like a video game controller. The remote is HDMI-compatible as well, meaning you can stream live footage to any monitor or VR. Sadly, the price is a little misleading, as the 3DR Solo doesn’t come with a camera or a gimbal mount. If you’re looking to purchase both accessories to complement the drone, you’re looking at a total price of about $1,500.


Yuneec Typhoon H $1300

The Typhoon H, the newest offering from Chinese manufacturer Yuneec International, utilizes the power of six rotors to help keep the itself aloft, automatically switching to five-rotor mode should one of the rotors give out. The Typhoon H also offers unparalleled video and photo resolution from its native 3-axis CG03+ gimbal camera, which is capable of capturing 4k footage at 30 fps or 1080p footage at 120 fps. The camera captures vivid 12-megapixel stills in 360 degrees, and conveniently streams 720p video to the 7-inch display housed on the bundled remote control.

The Typhoon H’s carbon fiber frame and collision avoidance system, which is powered by sonar sensors located on the front of the drone, combine to make this one of the sturdiest drones currently available. Moreover, it also features some flight modes similar to the 3DR Solo. “Orbit Me” and “Point of Interest” mirror the 3DR’s Orbit mode, and “Curve Cable Cam” takes the 3DR’s Cable Cam mode to the next level, allowing the drone to fly from point to point along a series of preset coordinates while you control the camera. The Typhoon H is capable of flying for around 25 minutes on a single charge, and is currently available for pre-order.


DJI Phantom 4 $1399

The Phantom 4 is the newest edition in the best-selling drone series of all time. DJI’s latest offering introduces a few new features to stay ahead of the game, and they don’t disappoint. The Phantom 4 comes equipped with automatic collision control, which alerts you and automatically stops your drone if you get too close to an obstacle. The all-new Sport Mode, on the other hand, disables the collision detection and transforms the Phantom into a bat-out-of-hell racing drone capable of reaching (and recording video at) over 45 mph.

The Phantom’s new ActiveTrack technology allows the user to select any moving object — i.e. a car, a cyclist, another drone — and the Phantom will automatically follow the object without any assistance from a beacon or tracker. The integrated 3-axis gimbal camera captures 4k footage at 30 fps and 1080p video at 12 fps for slow-motion shots, and captures 12-megapixel still images in Adobe DNG Raw. DJI claims the Phantom 4’s battery lasts for 28 minutes on a full charge, but we found that 20 minutes is more accurate if you spend a lot of time on the throttle.


DJI Inspire 1 Pro $3,899 + DJI Inspire 1 RAW $5,999

If you thought the Phantom 4 was cool… you were right. But the Inspire 1 Pro, the flagship drone from DJI, ascends to another plane when it comes to aerial videography. The Inspire 1 Pro and Raw editions include Micro 4/3 cameras, the Zenmuse X5 and X5R. The X5, which is capable of recording in lossless 4k resolution and snapping 16-megapixel stills, produces some of the most pristine footage in the consumer drone world, making the Inspire 1 a great choice for photographers and videographers alike. The X5R, in particular, is capable of capturing 4k raw footage — a feature no other drone-compatible camera can boast.

While the hefty price tag may dissuade some from considering both the Inspire 1 Pro and Raw, their recording power is second to none. The DJI app, available on Google Play and the App Store, features remote focus technology that allows for quick one-tap focusing on any mobile device. If you get your hands on a second remote control, the Inspire 1 is capable of dual-operator control, meaning one user can control the camera while the other user flies the drone. With all this power, though, comes a short list of drawbacks. The Inspire 1 takes much longer than most drones to set up and fly, and its heavier frame makes transporting this guy a little tougher than its little brother, the Phantom 4. The sheer power of the cameras also reduces battery life, too, with the X5 clocking in at around 18 minutes and the X5R around 15.


Parrot Bebop 2 $499

If you can’t manage to cough up the cash for the Inspire 1 Pro, the Parrot Bebop 2 might be for you. The Bebop, like the other drones profiled here, features an integrated 3-axis camera that’s capable of recording 1080p footage even at speeds over 40 mph. It also features a litany of sensors, gyroscopes, and stabilizers that help the drone stay balanced in most wind conditions. Although the Bebop 2’s ultra-light frame is composed of ABS plastic and reinforced with glass fiber, it can still handle wind speeds of up to 40 mph. The accompanying mobile app for iOS and Android also features an auto-land button in case things get too crazy. The drone’s battery life is one of its strengths, too, and allows it to achieve 25 minutes of flight time.

The Bebop’s default control mode is accessible through the aforementioned app, though for a cool $250 extra, you can purchase the Parrot SkyController remote control, a more traditional joystick-powered gizmo that allows for video streaming via a compatible smartphone or tablet attachment. Optional in-app purchases also serve as a way to unlock waypoint functionality for the drone, but otherwise, the drone is only as smart as its operator. The Bebop 2 — though a refinement of the first iteration of the Bebop — remains a far cry from DJI’s more expensive drones in many ways, but for first-time drone users or anyone who isn’t looking to spend their entire life savings on a flying camera, it’s an excellent choice. 

Author: Nick Hastings, Digital Trends

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8 viral ads that won 2015

The Internet has transformed advertising, opening new paths and creating new genres for commercial filmmakers. These are some of the most shared videos of 2015, each viral ad demonstrating ways the Internet continues to disrupt traditional content creation.

1. Android, “Friends Furever”

Smart content creators look at viral videos to learn what people like. Even smarter creators take viral video formats and repurpose them to get their message out. Android’s “Friends Furever” is basically just a YouTube compilation video with a message at the end, but it’s fresh and fun to watch. More importantly, it works—”Friends Furever” was the most viral ad of 2015.

2. Disney Parks, “Disney Characters Surprise Shoppers”

This viral ad uses a tried and true advertising strategy—the filmed live event. Videos in this style tend to feel staged, but “Disney Characters Surprise Shoppers” is surprisingly heartfelt and convincing. Its longer run time (2 minutes, 16 seconds) allows the filmmakers to use more natural pacing in the edit, which gives viewers the chance to relate to the people on-screen and share a sense of nostalgia at the end.

3. Purina, “Puppyhood”

Purina partnered with Buzzfeed to produce “Puppyhood,” a cute short video about a young adult and his new puppy. It’s not exactly a short film, but it’s not what you’d expect from an ad, either. “Puppyhood” represents the next big step in sponsored content. Most ads are still trying to interrupt or distract you from watching something else. With more than three million shares, Purina and Buzzfeed demonstrated that sponsored content like “Puppyhood” can be the destination itself.

4. GEICO, “Unskippable”

Adweek chose “Unskippable” as the best ad of 2015. GEICO’s viral ad is a perfect example of a commercial designed around the context people will see it in. “Unskippable” was created for the web, meaning that its largest audience would be seeing it on services like YouTube and Hulu. And so the ad begins with a joke about YouTube pre-roll videos. It’s funny, contemporary, and succeeded in getting viewers to watch all the way to the end.

5. Adidas, “Unfollow feat. Leo Messi”

The celebrity athlete commercial has become something of a cliche. Adidas shakes it up by mixing TV news footage, social media, and dynamic sports content, demonstrating what it means to be a celebrity today. It then flips the script when Messi encourages his fans to “unfollow” him in order to make their own dreams come true. Using music from a lesser-known artist (P.O.S. “Stand Up”), “Unfollow” makes it feel like Messi’s own personal anthem. Mixing the mega-popular with the somewhat obscure gives the viral ad a unique tone.

6. “The Collective Project: Robert Downey Jr. Delivers a Real Bionic Arm”

Who says a viral ad can’t be both funny and inspirational? Microsoft Office’s video with The Collective Project mixed an inspirational message, a moving event, and a giant movie star to generate a major crowd-pleaser. Kleenex’s “Unlikely Best Friends” was similarly inspiring, but didn’t generate as many shares. It’s hard to say whether it’s the humor or the movie star that makes The Collective Project’s video so appealing, but the combination was enough to generate more than ten million views on YouTube.

7. Red Nose Day, “Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical”

A mockumentary following a famous rock band, who are working on a musical about the biggest TV sh0w in the world. Narrated by Liam Neeson. It’s easy to see how “Coldplay’s Game of Thrones: The Musical” tallied 15 million views, even though it’s 12 minutes long. What’s not clear is what the video had to do with the Red Nose Day charity. Rather than creating a typical call to arms video, Red Nose Day gave viewers entertaining content and then invited them to donate if they enjoyed it. It’s a whole new kind of viral ad. Did their strategy pay off? It’s hard to say; we’ll see if they take a similar approach next year.

8. The Ad Council, “Love Has No Labels”

The Ad Council used a giant X-ray to show people how their feelings have been affected by unknown biases. It’s a classic device, brilliantly used. If that great idea wasn’t enough, they joined the live event with a music video format, creating a video that punches through prejudice to hit the audience right in the heart.

As traditional models become less powerful, filmmakers have the opportunity to tailor their content to the stories they want to tell and the spaces they want to tell them in. Sponsored content and viral ads allow for a truer blend of filmmaking and advertising than every before. What were your favorite viral ads of the last year? Have you made any long form product videos or advertisements? Share a link in the comments.

Author: Stephen Heleker

Stephen is a filmmaker and writer living in Los Angeles. He grew up in southwest Idaho and worked as a video producer/director before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an MFA in Directing at UCLA. Twitter: @stephenheleker

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